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From the Pastor 12/31/17

A Blessed New Year to all! January 1 is the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God and the World Day of Prayer for Peace. Due to the fact that the Solemnity falls on a Monday this year, it is not a Holy Day of Obligation. But because Mary the Mother of God adds to the richness of this season you have two Pastor’s Columns in the bulletin this weekend! So much joy!

This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Here is a prayer to the most Holy Family of Nazareth. All families should pray to the Holy Family for blessings and should strive to live a holy life, under the prayers of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, bless us and grant us the grace to love the Church as we ought, above every other thing, and always to show forth our love by deeds.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, bless us and grant us the grace to profess openly as we ought the faith given to us in Baptism, without fear or human respect.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, bless us and grant us the grace to share in the defense and propagation of the Faith whether by word or by the sacrifice of our fortunes and our lives.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, bless us and grant us the grace to love one another, and to live together in perfect harmony of thought, will and action, under the rule and guidance of our pastors.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, bless us and grant us the grace to conform our lives to the precepts of God and of the Church, so as to live always in that charity which they set forth ... Amen

Devotion to the Holy Family is a recent development, but one that naturally grows out of a love for Jesus and his family. The cult of the Holy Family grew in popularity in the 17th century, and several religious congregations have been founded under this title. The Holy Family also became portrayed in popular art of the period. On October 26, 1921 the Congregation of Rites (under Pope Benedict XV) inserted the Feast of the Holy Family into the Latin Rite general calendar. Until then it had been celebrated regionally. Popes before and including Benedict XV (especially Leo XIII) promoted the feast as a way to counter the break down of the family unit. Can you imagine what these Popes would say if they were living today, with so much break down of the family, and a complete misunderstanding of the family unit. Today we need to pray even more for the traditional Christian family. The Church celebrates the Feast on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

The Feast of the Holy Family is not just about the Holy Family, but about our own families too. The main purpose of the feast is to present the Holy Family as the model for all Christian families, and for domestic life in general. Our family life becomes sanctified when we live the life of the Church within our homes. This is called the “domestic church” or the “church in miniature.” St. John Chrysostom urged all Christians to make each home a “family church,” and in doing so, we sanctify the family unit. Just how does one live out the Church in the family?

The best way is by making Christ the center of family and individual life. Ways to do this include: reading scripture regularly, praying daily, attending Mass at least on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, imitating the actions of the Holy Family, going to confession frequently, praying the family rosary, and so forth, all done together as a family unit.

In addition to cultivating positive actions, the Church understands that various actions and behaviors are contrary to God’s Divine plan for the family. These include abortion, contraception, embryonic stem-cell research, divorce, spousal abuse, child abuse, unnatural unions, among other things. Catholic teaching is that a marriage must be between a man and a woman, and be open to children. Anything artificial that prevents this is contrary to divine law, although spacing births for a just reason is permitted and may be accomplished through Natural Family Planning.

Also, poverty, lack of health care, rights violations, government intrusion in the life of communities and families, and other justice concerns must be addressed by faithful Christians because of the negative effect these conditions have on the family unit. St. Paul gives us some advice on family life in Colossians 3:12-21:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”

The Holy Family feast is a good time to remember the family unit and pray for our human and spiritual families. We also may take this feast to reflect on the value and sanctity of the family unit, and to evaluate our own family life. What ways may our own families be improved? What would Jesus, Mary and Joseph do? Finally, we can use this feast to ask ourselves what are we doing to promote the family within our own cultures, neighborhoods, and communities.

Next weekend after the 6:00pm Sunday Mass, we will invite parishioners to take home the poinsettia plants in the sanctuary. Any leftover plants can be taken on Monday.

Let us pray for peace in our troubled world, especially through the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace.

Sometimes we take for granted the great teachings of the Church, such as the Holy Trinity, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Blessed Mother, and the Holy Eucharist, just to name a few. But we must know the history of how these teachings came about, and that much blood (literally), fierce debates and controversies took place before the Church was able to make needed clarifications for sound doctrine. One great example of this is the history behind the doctrine of Mary, Mother of God.

The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God helps bring home the reality of the incarnation, that God did not simply briefly appear in human form, but actually inseparably and eternally united himself to a human nature. In Jesus, God truly became man ... and that man had, and still has, a mother. This doctrine of Mary as the Mother of God was affirmed by the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431AD.

The Mother of the Messiah has been called many things in the last 2000 years ― the Virgin Mary, Our Lady, the Blessed Mother. But call her “the Mother of God” and you’ll see some Christians squirm.

This is nothing new. One day in the early fifth century, a priest preached a stirring sermon in the presence of Nestorius the patriarch of Constantinople. His subject was the holy mother of Jesus. The preacher continually referred to Mary as the “Theotokos” meaning “God-bearer” or Mother of God. This was not an innovation. Christians had invoked Mary under this title for at least two hundred years before this sermon was ever preached. Nevertheless, at the close of the sermon, the patriarch ascended the steps of the pulpit to correct the preacher. We should call Mary the Mother of Christ, said Patriarch Nestorius, not the Mother of God. She was the mother of his human nature, not the mother of his divinity.

His comment sparked a riot. And the dispute rocked not only the congregation, but the entire empire. Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, immediately recognized that Nestorius’ Marian theology was a symptom of a much deeper problem, a problem with the incarnation itself. For to deny Mary the title “Mother of God” makes of Jesus a dichotomy, a split personality. It would mean that God had not really embraced our humanity so as to become human. Rather, the humanity of Christ is hermetically sealed off from the divinity, as if Jesus were two persons, as if human nature was so distasteful that God, in Christ, had to keep it at arm’s distance. It is OK, according to Nestorius, to say that in Jesus, God raised Lazarus, or multiplied the loaves, or walked on water. But it is not OK to say that in Jesus God is born or that God died.

Cyril, aware that this was a challenge to the heart of our faith, demanded that an ecumenical council be called to settle the matter. So in 431AD, the Council of Ephesus met, under Cyril’s leadership, and solemnly proclaimed that Mary is indeed rightly to be honored as the Theotokos, the Mother of God. It proclaimed that from the moment of his conception, God truly became man.

Of course Mary is a creature and could never be the origin of the eternal Trinity, God without beginning or end. But the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity chose to truly become man. He did not just come and borrow a human body and drive it around for a while, ascend back to heaven, and discard it like an old car. No, at the moment of his conception in the womb of Mary, an amazing thing happened. God the Son united himself with a human nature forever. Humanity and divinity were so closely bound together in Jesus, Son of Mary, that they could never be separated again. Everything that would be done by the Son of Mary would be the act both of God and of man. So indeed it would be right to say that a man raised Lazarus from the dead and commanded the wind and waves; that God was born that first Christmas day and that, on Good Friday, God died.

The Council of Ephesus, once confirmed by the Pope, became the Third Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, and its teaching in this matter is dogma, truth revealed by God which all are bound to accept.

So why does the Roman liturgy celebrate the Octave of Christmas as the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God? Because this paradoxical phrase strikes at the very heart of Christmas. The songs we sing and the cards we write extol the babe of Bethlehem as Emmanuel, God-with-us. He is so with us that after Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin of Nazareth, the Divine Word can never again be divided from our humanity. What God has joined, let no man separate.

A blessed Christmas week to all,

Rev. André-Joseph LaCasse, O.P., Pastor